John Paul II

Assessing His Legacy

In the last chapter of my Gifford Lecturers (With the Grain of the Universe: The Church’s Witness and Natural Theology), I suggested that the great Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and John Paul II represent the theological politics necessary to sustain the work of theology in our time. I am sure many thought I was being disingenuous. Anabaptist and pope are surely strange bedfellows. But I had no devious intentions. I believe that John Paul II’s reassertion of the Christological center for Roman Catholic theology has ecclesiological implications that are not unlike those represented by Yoder.

In his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, John Paul II made Christ the center of the church’s witness in a manner that shaped all his papacy. Those external to the Catholic world may think it odd to congratulate a pope for being “Christological.” But John Paul II, schooled on the resources needed to oppose totalitarians, called Catholic theology back to its animating center with a renewed sense that Jesus matters. I think, moreover, it is no accident that John Paul II later issued Fides et ratio, for he rightly understood that any recovery of right reason requires an uncompromising recognition that the God who can be known through reason is the God who has made himself known in Christ.

John Paul II’s effort to help Catholics understand that they are members of a...

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About the Author

Stanley Hauerwas is professor of theology at Duke Divinity School.